“so now we see the cat is a shadow of the Virgin Mary. It is that part of the female nature that the Virgin Mary did not represent but would belong to a complete image of the feminine“
Marie-Louse Von Franz
The principle driving forces behind creating this new body of work were two interlocking books, Psychology and Alchemy by Carl Jung and The Cat by Marie-Louise Von Franz.
Drawing from these two sources created a framework from which I could project various scenes and scenarios.
There are seven stages of spiritual alchemy; if a person can complete them, it is thought that they will reach an enlightened form of consciousness. There are parallels here to Buddhism and Hinduism.
Stage 1. Calcination
The beginning of the journey could be compared to the long night of the soul. The person’s sense of order must be relinquished so a new state can be established. This creates a fearfulness but ushers in an urgent need for change.
In my painting of this title, a hand emerges from dark waters to offer the struggling figure a phoenix feather – light and hope in difficult times.
Stage 2. Dissolution
In this stage the self is freed from its acquired sense of identity.
Water and salt are key players in this process of alchemy, cleansing and removing the old unwanted vestiges and purifying the newly emerging self.
The painting to accompany it comprises of a boat resembling a wild fowl, fractured into smaller sections containing elements of the self, the journey towards fulfilment.
Stage 3. Separation
(Self portrait as an old goat)
A process that looks both back and forwards to understand the past and possibly key difficult events in the person’s life.
This stage is positive as old skin is shed and the kernel of the new emerges.
In this image I presented myself in dual aspect, in grief for losing a dear goat friend called Charlie in Italy at the home of my friend and author of our Florilegium book, Clark Lawrence, whilst looking forward with hope to the beginning of my sixth decade.
Stage 4. Conjunction
A stage where all the previous stages are applied, tested to see what is useful and can remain and what can be relinquished.
Many strange strands are drawn together here in what Jung referred to as a Feminine process that uses both intuition and intelligence to unite the new being under formation.
In this painting a huge green woodpecker presents a key for unlocking intuitive powers, sometimes forged by difficulties, to a woman with a crown above her head. The bird also feeds two Romulus and Remus like twins with honey.
This is a strange work, coming in part from a dream, satisfyingly, I don’t understand all the elements but that is often the nature of my process. Waking dreams and automatic drawing often are the starting points for completed work.
Stage 5. Fermentation
Decay and rebirth are key motifs of this stage, symbolised by the phoenix rising from the ashes.
The bulb in my painting here is central as it is buried in the ground in the autumn as if dead only to burst forth and flower in the spring.
The bulb is also delivering a fiery phoenix in the hands of the seated woman. Change and metamorphosis abound as animal and vegetative matter fuse to produce new forms of being.
Stage 6. Distillation
The penultimate stage, cleansing, all impurities are removed and the true spirit of the person is solidified.
I chose this stage for my title painting, The cat becomes a fountain.
In this work I imagine my own animal companion, a formidable black cat in the form of Lilith the first Eve.
Aspects of this work echo Renaissance paintings and passages from the Apocrypha where Eve expelled from the Garden of Eden, weeps and where her tears fall lilies spring up. The Angel Gabriel gathers them and presents them to the Virgin Mary at the Annunciation, a symbol of past and future pain and joy.
The golden apple references the Eden story but also the Norse myth of Iduna, who has golden apples that rejuvenate, the gods bestowing on them immortal life.
The work in all of this series is about metamorphosis, how the human mind attaches significance and strangeness to objects or living beings. It is an endlessly rich vein to explore.
Stage 7. Coagulation
The Final stage concerns the solidification of the essential self. To make a cut to form a scab, the healing process and growing anew into forms both rich and strange.
The accompanying work channels bliss, strength in the form of a lion and enlightenment.
The woman holds a kestrel that she will soon release to fly free. Sunflowers illuminate the conscious world and the moon on her forehead suggests she is a form of the Hindu black goddess Kali, in her most positive aspect as the arrival of the night and the reincarnation of the true self though dreaming.
Siren was created at the same time as the seven alchemical stages, again Birkin my cat appears as a muse.
The work appeared out of the crucible of ideas and energy of thought on the nature of duality and mutability.
The intent was to describe something both domestic and divine.
This work began the whole series and again draws heavily on Renaissance motifs.
It’s impossible for me to not return to my Jungian template of a bird in its many forms. Birds frequent my work and my world. In this image I am honouring them and offering myself as a conduit to explain the vital significance of their feathered selves.
The Cat: A Tale of Feminine Redemption
by Marie-Louse Von Franz